Tag Archives: Democracy

Democracy’s biggest challenge is information integrity

By Laura Thornton – As the world watches the United States’ elections unfold, the intensity of our polarization is on display. This election was not marked by apathy. On the contrary – citizens turned out in record numbers, some standing in lines all day, to exercise their franchise with powerful determination and the conviction of their choice.

What is notable is how diametrically opposed those choices are, the divergence is not only voters’ visions for America but perceptions of the reality of America. It has long been said that Americans, like citizens elsewhere, increasingly live in parallel universes. Why is this? I believe quite simply it boils down to information.

While there are ample exceptions and complexities, in one universe, people consume a smattering of different news sources, perhaps one or two newspapers, some journals, television and radio broadcasts and podcasts. Many of the sources are considered left-leaning. These Americans tend to hold university degrees and vote for Democrats.

The other universe includes those who primarily get their news from one or two sources, like Fox News, and rely on Facebook and perhaps their community, friends, and family for information.  They lean Republican, and many are not university educated — the so-called “education gap” in American politics. The majority of Republicans, in fact, cite Fox for their primary source of news, and those who watch Fox News are overwhelmingly supportive of Republicans and Trump.  Both universes gravitate toward echo chambers of like-minded compatriots, rarely open or empathetic to the views and experiences of others.

There are obvious exceptions and variations. The New York Times-reading, educated Republican holding his nose but counting on a tax break. Or the low-information voter who votes Democratic with her community.

In the two big general universes, sadly the divide is not just about opinions or policy approaches.  They operate with different facts.  As Kellyanne Conway, former Trump advisor, famously put it, “alternative facts.” more>

Evaluating democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in the EU

The defense of universal norms needs to be broadened beyond Hungary and Poland and beyond the rule of law.
By Birgit Sippel – There is currently a lot of discussion in Europe about democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights. The European Commission and the European Parliament have submitted their proposals, on what should examined, in what framework—and by whom.

But to understand what is at issue, the concept of ‘rule of law’ must first be considered more closely. The English term seems clearly expressed: laws lay down what is permissible—and what is not.

This is a definition favored especially by the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, the leader of the Polish Law and Justice party, Jarosław Kaczyzński, and their supporters. In every case, it is said, appropriate Hungarian or Polish laws exist for all that is criticized by the European Parliament and the commission, by the Council of Europe and indeed by many judges, lawyers and citizens in their own countries.

In reality such a definition falls short. In the narrow sense, it could apply to many autocracies and dictatorships, which none too seldom have laws for discrimination, exclusion and persecution.

But the European Union is an association of democratic states. Of course, laws determine what is possible—and what is not. At the same time, however, our laws also have the function of protecting democracy and the democratic rules of the game, as well as the fundamental rights of all.

Today, coalitions of two or more parties rule in many European countries. Orbán and Kaczyzński can rely on absolute majorities in their parliaments. Yet, wherever they are, democratic governments are bound by the rules of the game—for example, orderly procedures, which pay attention to the rights of the opposition, the parliamentary minority, sustaining democracy and diversity of opinion.

The same applies to the allocation of funding. Public monies must only be used for the purposes envisaged in each case. And all municipal and social organizations must be able to receive such funds—independent of whether they affiliate to the governing party, support it or associate with the opposition, adopting a stance critical of the government.

In this context, the judiciary has a special role to play. On the one hand, it must be able to apply the laws of a democratically constituted state in a manner independent of parties and governments. On the other hand, it must be able, in the light of the constitution, to examine independently whether new instruments protect its principles, the democratic rules of the game and the rights of the citizenry.

The media also have a special responsibility on all these issues. They should report freely and critically, ask questions, highlight abuses and where necessary touch a raw nerve. This is an important element of democratic control and an important contribution to an informed public. more>

Social democracy in one corner of the world

Branko Milanovic argues that ‘stop the world, we want to get off’ is no basis for a revival of progressive politics.
By Branko Milanovic – Caught between relentless Trumpian protectionism and xenophobia, on the one hand, and the neoliberal coalition of sexual liberators and money bagmen on the other, the left in rich countries seems bereft of new ideas. And worse than lacking new ideas is trying to restore a world gone by, which goes against the grain of modern life and the modern economy.

et this is an exercise in which some parts of the left are engaged. I have in mind several essays in The Great Regression, a book I reviewed here, a recent piece by Chantal Mouffe and, perhaps most overtly, Paul Collier’s The Future of Capitalism (reviewed here and here). Dani Rodrik provided early ideological ammunition for this point of view with his celebrated ‘trilemma’. It is also the context within which my Capitalism, Alone was recently reviewed by Robert Kuttner in the New York Review of Books.

This project aims to recreate the conditions of around 1950 to 1980, which was indeed the period of social-democratic flourishing. Although many people tend to present the period in excessively bright hues, there is no doubt it was in many respects an extraordinarily successful period for the west: economic growth was high, western nations’ incomes were converging, inequality was relatively low, inter-class mobility was higher than today, social mores were becoming more relaxed and egalitarian and the western working class was richer than three-quarters of humankind (and could feel, as Collier writes, proud and superior to the rest of the world). There is much to be nostalgic about.

But that success occurred under very special conditions, none of which can be recreated. What were they?

First, a very large portion of the global workforce was not competing with workers of the first world. Socialist economies, China and India all followed autarkic policies, by design or historical accident. Secondly, capital did not move much. There were not only capital restrictions but foreign investments were often the target of nationalization and even the technical means to move large amounts of money seamlessly did not exist. more>

11 ways to fix America’s fundamentally broken democracy

A plan for the democratic revolution America needs
By Ian Millhiser – The United States has a president who received nearly 3 million fewer votes than his Democratic opponent. Currently, over half the country lives in just nine states, which means that less than half of the population controls 82 percent of the Senate. It also means that Republicans hold a majority in the Senate despite the fact that Democratic senators represent more than half of the American people.

Intentional efforts to make it harder to vote, such as voter ID laws, are increasingly common throughout the states — and the Supreme Court frequently approaches such voter suppression with indifference. Gerrymandering renders many legislative elections irrelevant — in 2018, Republicans won nearly two-thirds of the seats in the Wisconsin state assembly, even though Democratic candidates received 54 percent of the popular vote. Wealthy donors flood elections with money, as lawmakers spend thousands of hours on “call time,” dialing the rich to fund the next campaign.

And looming over all of this is the problem of race. In some states, Republican lawmakers write voter suppression laws that target voters of color with, in the word of one federal appeals court, “almost surgical precision,” knowing that a law that targets minority votes will primarily disenfranchise Democrats.

Congressional Democrats are acutely aware of many of these problems. And they’ve devised some fairly aggressive plans to combat these attacks on the franchise. more>

The 19th Amendment didn’t give women the right to vote

Its language — and effects — were much narrower.
By Anna North – The passage of the 19th Amendment has long been heralded as the turning point for women’s voting rights in America.

Textbooks and teaching materials hail the amendment, ratified on August 18, 1920, as a “milestone” guaranteeing voting rights to all women. In 1973, Congress designated August 26, the date the amendment was officially certified, as Women’s Equality Day — honoring, in the words of then-President Richard Nixon, “the first step toward full and equal participation of women in our Nation’s life.” This year, celebrations around the country mark the amendment’s 100th anniversary. You can buy “nasty woman” T-shirts commemorating the centennial of women voting.

But in reality, the 19th Amendment did not affirmatively grant the vote to all women — or even to any women in particular. All the text says is: “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

In other words, after its ratification, states were no longer allowed to keep people from the polls just because they were women. But officials who wanted to stop people from voting had plenty of other tools with which to do so.

States could use poll taxes and other voter suppression tactics — already used across the country to deny voting rights to Black men — to keep Black women from voting. They could, and did, use those same tactics against Latina women. Indigenous women and many Asian American women lacked citizenship in 1920, meaning they couldn’t vote in the first place. All in all, the 19th Amendment was essentially for one group of women and one group only: white women.

That was by design. White suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton may have championed equality for women, but in practice, they often meant women like themselves. more>

We are Hong Kong

By Chris Patten – In my final speech as Hong Kong’s governor on June 30, 1997, a few hours before I left the city on Britain’s royal yacht, I remarked that “Now, Hong Kong people are to run Hong Kong. That is the promise. And that is the unshakable destiny.”

That promise was contained in the 1984 Joint Declaration, a treaty signed by China and the United Kingdom and lodged at the United Nations. The deal was clear, and the guarantee to Hong Kong’s citizens was absolute: the return of the city from British to Chinese sovereignty would be governed by the principle of “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong would have a high degree of autonomy for 50 years, until 2047, and would continue to enjoy all the freedoms associated with an open society under the rule of law.

But with his recent decision to impose a draconian new security law on Hong Kong, Chinese President Xi Jinping has ridden roughshod over the Joint Declaration and directly threatened the city’s freedom. Defenders of liberal democracy must not stand idly by.

For over a decade after the 1997 handover, China largely kept its promise regarding “one country, two systems.” True, not everything was perfect. China retreated from its promise that Hong Kong could determine its own democratic government in the Legislative Council, and the Chinese government periodically interfered in the life of the city. In 2003, for example, it abandoned an attempt to introduce legislation on issues such as sedition – an odd priority in a peaceful and moderate community – in the face of mass public protests.

Overall, however, even skeptics conceded that things had gone pretty well. But China-Hong Kong relations started to deteriorate after Xi became president in 2013 and dusted off the playbook of aggressive and brutal Leninism. Xi reversed many of his immediate predecessors’ policy changes, and the Communist Party of China reasserted control over every aspect of Chinese society, including economic management.

Xi toughened the party’s grip on civil society and universities, and cracked down on any sign of dissident activity. He demonstrated that his regime’s word could not be trusted internationally, for example by reneging on promises he had made to US President Barack Obama that China would not militarize the atolls and islands it was seizing illegally in the South China Sea. more>

The Coronavirus Crisis in the U.S. Is a Failure of Democracy

By David Litt – It’s become commonplace to refer to COVID-19 as “the worst public health crisis of our lifetimes.” But what has cost the United States so many lives and jobs during the pandemic is not, at root, a failure of public health. It’s a failure of democracy.

Despite our political polarization, and in the face of an unprecedented threat, the American people have been in remarkable agreement about what they expect from their government. From the time the virus was discovered, our scientists and public health officials urged aggressive action and put forward plans to save lives. Poll after poll has shown that a clear majority of Americans trust want our leaders to heed the experts’ advice. Yet that hasn’t happened. We were far too slow to implement social-distancing guidelines – a delay epidemiologists found is responsible for 90% of U.S. coronavirus deaths – and now we’re acting far too quickly to reopen the economy.

In other words, with lives on the line, our elected leaders are ignoring the people’s will, and Americans are dying as a result. In our shining city on a hill – the global model for representative government – how could this possibly happen? more>

Authoritarianism and state surveillance cannot become a post-pandemic acceptable norm

By Nicholas Waller – In the space of just a few weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has plunged much of the world into a state suspended paralysis. What’s more, this crisis has laid bare just how unprepared we in the developed world are when a major global catastrophe strikes at the very heart of our way of life. But if the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it is that delaying prudent policymaking has deadly and economically ruinous consequences.

When the first signs of an outbreak began in China in late 2019, the earliest warnings were first covered up by a paranoid Communist regime that was intent on keeping the world uninformed about the deadly nature of the disease. Despite multiple alarms in Europe and the United States shortly after the new year, those warnings went unheeded.

While the lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic await an in-depth review once the worst phase of the crisis passes, the world is now left with finding a way to somehow tame the disease while at the same time picking up the pieces of the world’s economies and forging ahead with a more secure post-pandemic existence.

In order to do that, the world’s democracies must acknowledge the disturbing speed by which aggressive and heavy-handed measures were enacted by officials in nations with little-to-no-history of authoritarianism as part of their efforts to combat the spread of the virus. This has led to many of the core tenants of modern liberal democracy becoming the main casualties of the COVID-19 crisis as strict lockdowns, curfews, restrictions on the press, public shaming of those who question the authorities, and restrictions on the right to assemble became the order of the day.

The distinctly Orwellian character of each of the aforementioned acts is impossible to ignore. This means that each of the leading nations of the free world must come to the harsh realization that once certain inalienable rights are stripped away, it is nearly impossible to ever recoup what has been forever lost – the post-9/11 world taught each and every one of us that simple but fundamental lesson.

When the world moves into the next uncharted phases of the post- COVID-19, Europeans must be at the forefront of how to demonstrate the means by which democratic principles can be preserved.

As national economies contract, resources will shrink, and governments will struggle to provide for their own populations. But by pooling together the vast scientific, manufacturing, and innovative resources that the EU possesses – and working in tandem with its close allies in the US, UK, and Canada – Europe can produce and store vital medical and telecommunications resources that would wean itself off a destructive dependence on Chinese supplies, part of which contributed to the sense of malaise and outright hubris that contributed to the severity of the pandemic. more>

The Last Time Democracy Almost Died

By Jill Lepore – American democracy, too, staggered, weakened by corruption, monopoly, apathy, inequality, political violence, hucksterism, racial injustice, unemployment, even starvation. “We do not distrust the future of essential democracy,” F.D.R. said in his first Inaugural Address, telling Americans that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself. But there was more to be afraid of, including Americans’ own declining faith in self-government.

“American democracy,” as a matter of history, is democracy with an asterisk, the symbol A-Rod’s name would need if he were ever inducted into the Hall of Fame. Not until the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act can the United States be said to have met the basic conditions for political equality requisite in a democracy. All the same, measured not against its past but against its contemporaries, American democracy in the twenty-first century is withering. The Democracy Index rates a hundred and sixty-seven countries, every year, on a scale that ranges from “full democracy” to “authoritarian regime.”

In 2006, the U.S. was a “full democracy,” the seventeenth most democratic nation in the world.

In 2016, the index for the first time rated the United States a “flawed democracy,” and since then American democracy has gotten only more flawed. True, the United States still doesn’t have a Rome or a Berlin to march on. That hasn’t saved the nation from misinformation, tribalization, domestic terrorism, human-rights abuses, political intolerance, social-media mob rule, white nationalism, a criminal President, the nobbling of Congress, a corrupt Presidential Administration, assaults on the press, crippling polarization, the undermining of elections, and an epistemological chaos that is the only air that totalitarianism can breathe.

Nothing so sharpens one’s appreciation for democracy as bearing witness to its demolition. Mussolini called Italy and Germany “the greatest and soundest democracies which exist in the world today,” and Hitler liked to say that, with Nazi Germany, he had achieved a “beautiful democracy,” prompting the American political columnist Dorothy Thompson to remark of the Fascist state, “If it is going to call itself democratic we had better find another word for what we have and what we want.” In the nineteen-thirties, Americans didn’t find another word. But they did work to decide what they wanted, and to imagine and to build it.

Thompson, who had been a foreign correspondent in Germany and Austria and had interviewed the Führer, said, in a column that reached eight million readers, “Be sure you know what you prepare to defend.”

It’s a paradox of democracy that the best way to defend it is to attack it, to ask more of it, by way of criticism, protest, and dissent. more>

A Foreign Policy for All

Strengthening Democracy—at Home and Abroad
By Elizabeth Warren – Around the world, democracy is under assault. Authoritarian governments are gaining power, and right-wing demagogues are gaining strength. Movements toward openness and pluralism have stalled. Inequality is growing, transforming rule by the people into rule by wealthy elites. And here in the United States, many Americans seem to accept—even embrace—the politics of division and resentment.

How did we get here?

There’s a story Americans like to tell ourselves about how we built a liberal international order—one based on democratic principles, committed to civil and human rights, accountable to citizens, bound by the rule of law, and focused on economic prosperity for all. It’s a good story, with deep roots. But in recent decades, Washington’s focus has shifted from policies that benefit everyone to policies that benefit a handful of elites. After the Cold War, U.S. policymakers started to believe that because democracy had outlasted communism, it would be simple to build democracy anywhere and everywhere. They began to export a particular brand of capitalism, one that involved weak regulations, low taxes on the wealthy, and policies favoring multinational corporations. And the United States took on a series of seemingly endless wars, engaging in conflicts with mistaken or uncertain objectives and no obvious path to completion.

The impact of these policy changes has been devastating. While international economic policies and trade deals have worked gloriously well for elites around the world, they have left working people discouraged and disaffected. Efforts to promote the United States’ own security have soaked up huge resources and destabilized entire regions, and meanwhile, U.S. technological dominance has quietly eroded. Inequality has grown worldwide, contributing to an unfolding nationalist backlash that seeks to upend democracy itself. It is little wonder that the American people have less faith in their government today than at any other time in modern U.S. history. The country is in a moment of crisis decades in the making.

To fight back, we need to pursue international economic policies that benefit all Americans, not merely an elite few. We need strong yet pragmatic security policies, amplified by diplomacy. And the United States can no longer maintain the comfortable assumption that its domestic and foreign policies are separate. Every decision the government makes should be grounded in the recognition that actions that undermine working families in this country ultimately erode American strength in the world. In other words, we need a foreign policy that works for all Americans.

The urgency of the moment cannot be overstated. At home and abroad, democracy is on the defense. The details of the problem vary from place to place, but one cause stands out everywhere: the systematic failure to understand and invest in the social, political, and economic foundations on which democracies rest. If we do not stand up to those who seek to undermine our democracy and our economy, we will end up as bystanders to the destruction of both. more>